Music Makers: Bob Corlett

Zydeco Kings. The style of the nearly three-decade-old local jazz group is distinctly a southern Louisiana fun sound.

Zydeco Kings. The style of the nearly three-decade-old local jazz group is distinctly a southern Louisiana fun sound.

“Zydeco music began in southwest Louisiana, south of Lafayette, west of New Orleans,” said Bob Corlett, who founded Zydeco Kings late in the 1990s with Jennifer Maurer and others. “We play zydeco music when I play the accordion. When I’m playing the keyboard, it’s New Orleans-style rhythm and blues. It’s probably a 50-50 split.

“What we’re trying to do is give people the experience of Louisiana music, from the city of New Orleans to the rural areas of the bayous.”

Corlett and Maurer have doubled their musical effort, with the former sticking with Zydeco Kings and the latter forming the newer Mo Mojo group, although they still occasionally perform during each other’s gigs. Such is the nature of Zydeco Kings, for which a number of musicians and singers are combined in varying combinations. The core six are Corlett on vocals, in addition to keyboard and accordion; Jefferson Rice on keyboard, horns and vocals; William Drake on guitar and vocals; Paula Hart on the rub board; Mike Covert on bass; and Doug Smith on drums.

“When one musician can’t play, there are several others who can sit in,” Corlett explained.

By its nature, zydeco music is a “good time” sound.

“Our music is upbeat dance music,” Corlett said. “If you hear a song, and it sounds dark, we don’t play it.”

In groups of three to six musicians—“If we only have two, we call it the Zydeco Kings Duo”—the musicians and singers perform throughout a region surrounding Stark County.

“We get as far away as Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio, and Sharon, Pennsylvania,” Corlett said.

An appearance is planned at the Sharon Blues Festival, and Zydeco Kings plays the House of Blues in Cleveland a couple of times a year. Locally, the group will appear at Passion Blues in Canton on July 9, August 6 and September 10. Clay’s Park has booked Zydeco Kings for August 12 and 13.

The “Kings” in the name of Zydeco Kings is a playful claim made in the traditional manner of the zydeco music style. In the 1970s and 1980s, one of the music’s recording artists, Clifton Chenier, was called the “King of Zydeco.” Others soon made similar claims, and some promoters publicized shows as being headlined by performers who also were “kings” of zydeco.

“A lot of guys were calling themselves the king,” Corlett recalled. So, when Zydeco Kings was formed, the moniker seemed a natural one to assume. “In 1998 when we played the Fat Tuesday party at Pal Joey’s, that was the first time we played a gig under that name.”

The quality of the zydeco music that Zydeco Kings performs, however, seems to support the claim in this case. The music Zydeco Kings plays appears to be born and raised in the South and just brought to the North for the fun of it.

“A lot of times, people will think we’re from Louisiana,” said Corlett. “People will ask me, ‘When do you have to go back?’ They say, ‘You’ve got the sound.’ When I hear that I think, ‘Yeah, they get what we’re trying to do.’ ”